Critically Evaluate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as Way of Understanding Employee Motivation in Contemporary Chinese Business

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Critically evaluate Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as way of understanding employee motivation in contemporary Chinese business

Business mangers today are facing two main challenges because of the rapid global economic growth: one is organizational efficiency; the other is the necessity to improve competitive strategies (Wang, 2007). To keep up with this growth, they need to improve productivity to increase enterprise revenue and also invent new technologies or products to expand markets. It is pointed out by Hurst (1995), employee attitudes is a key factor which influence a company’s future success. That is because people’s attitudes decide their behavior (Cooper and Croyle, 1984), therefore, it is of great importance that companies and mangers know what affect employees’ attitudes and motivate them to work hard. However, workers’ needs are complex. To study this, different theories have been raised to analyze people’s motivation; Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is one of these theories. According to Maslow (1954), people’s needs are divided into 5 parts: Physiological, Safety and Security, Belonging (social), Self-esteem and Self-actualization from the bottom and these needs are satisfied step by step. Although his theory is valuable to some extent, it has been pointed out that Maslow’s theory cannot be completely accepted. This essay will evaluate Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and demonstrate that the theory do not fully suit China’s contemporary business model.

Though it has been claimed that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is accepted and can be applied into business, the theory is considered not universally practical and to be general. Fey (2005) states that later researchers like Alderfer (1969) and McClelland (1961) built their own theories based on Maslow’s principle: higher levels of needs become important only when the basic needs have been met. In addition, Herzberg was in agreement with Maslow, he carried on Maslow’s work and developed it into two factor theory which completely focus on workplace (Hoffmann, 2006). As Cullen (1997) claimed, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is so pervasive that people are not always aware of it. Meanwhile, the theory also appeals some business managers: the basic needs of workers can be met by salaries and what the most important is that high level of needs can be reached during employees’ work. This means that if workers’ hard work is recognized and awarded, the self-esteem or self-actualization needs are met (Green, 2011). For example, Haire is thought to be the first company that apply this theory into workplace (Fey, 2005). However, though Maslow’s theory has been widely accepted, it remains a controversial issue. Coring (2000) together with Wahba and Bridwell (1973) criticized that theory is non-testable and lack research evidence. In addition, Maslow has identified 5 needs, while, in Ford’s MST theory, 24 needs were raised both in psychological and biological science (Rouse and Kimberley, 2004). Though Maslow’s theory do not involved everything, it is still a useful theory which works more like a guide that gives mangers some thought and requires further analysis when it comes to different condition.

Despite the aforementioned comment, the theory is also criticized to be too inborn and universal. Maslow created his pyramid in an inflexible way, in his theory people can only achieve high levels of needs when the lower needs have been satisfied. However, Villarica (2001) argued that these needs do not always come in that order in reality. An example of this is when people are hungry, they can still feel happy with his friends and what today’s employees care is not only salary but also at the same time environment and the sense of belonging. Diener (2010) compares human needs to vitamins and points out that needs work independently as vitamins in human’s body. Sackett (1998) also argued that people can reach self-actualized before the lower-level needs are met. Take Chinese young...
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